The W5RRR Shack

Station Overview

Welcome to the W5RRR/JSC Amateur Radio Club station page.  

The station is located in Building 208 at Johnson Space Center. Bldg 208 is located at the east end of the north parking lot of the Gilruth Center, the employee’s recreation center. The ‘shack’ is located in the center of the building and features a back door. We share the building with Lunarfins, the SCUBA club here at JSC, the grounds-maintenance garage, the umpire/referee room, a concession stand, and restrooms. The club room has about 500 square feet of floor space.

W5RRR shack pre-2007.

About mid-March 2007, the building housing the W5RRR station, the JSC Lunarfins scuba club and the grounds-maintenance garage was demolished, the slab broken up and removed. A new slab was poured and the building constructed. It took a while longer than expected due to a couple of hurricanes and heavy rainy seasons. Click here to see pictures of the progress of to new building.
Like our old facility, the club station has a satellite VHF/UHF operating console, 3 HF and 1 VHF/UHF operating tables. The floor is carpeted and all cable runs are made in a cable tray around the perimeter of the room about 18″ below the ceiling. We have moved in and are setting up stations, computers, and hanging pictures.

Today’s HF Stations

1.  The Icom IC-781 HF Station:

The only station in our repertoire of HF radios without an amplifier is the Icom IC-781 HF transceiver. It once had an awesome matching amplifier: the IC-4KL, a 1,500 watt, autotune amplifier. It was the workhorse station for the club for many years. Sadly, a ‘black-box’ power supply in the amplifier failed and Icom service department could not repair it. Due to an admin error at Icom, they also determined that we should never have received that particular amplifier in the first place and so refused to return it to JSCARC.

2.  The Yaesu FT-1000D/FL-7000 Station

This station is a great CW station to operate. Semi-automatic antenna tuning of the transceiver and the amplifier make this station an easy and reliable station to operate.  The matching FL-7000 amp is a solid state linear pumping out 500-700W output.

3.  The Kenwood TS-950SD/TL-922A station.

This is our most powerful setup.  It’s a super performer dishing out CW and SSB QSO’s.  The TL-922A dishes out a solid 1KW output, driving two rugged 3-500Z finals.  This station is also currently the only station that has a digital SignaLink USB Sound Card interface.

Today’s VHF/UHF Stations 

1. The Icom IC-275A Station

2.  Icom IC-471H Station

The IC-275 transceiver is an all mode 2m rig supporting USB, LSB, FM and CW. Extended receive is from 138-174 MHz.  Output is 25W.  The Icom IC-475H is a 440 MHz all-mode transceiver with 75 watts output. It is very similar in features to the Icom IC-275A.

3.  The Kenwood TS-2000x Station

The Kenwood TS-2000 is an all band HF/VHF/UHF transceiver with exceptional features and versatility. Wide band Main HF reception includes:  30 kHz-60 MHz. On VHF/UHF you get:  142-152 and 420-450 MHz. 1240-1300 MHz is featured in this TS-2000X model. Sub band (AM/FM modes only) reception includes:  118-174, 220-512 MHz. Output is 100 watts on HF, 6 meters and 2 meters. 50 watts for 440 MHz. A built-in TCXO ensures excellent stabililty.

Because of our involvement with Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment (SAREX) and Amateur Radio onboard International Space Station (ARISS), the VHF/UHF satellite console had logged quite a bit of the interest, activity and attention in the station. The console housed three transceivers, a couple of power supplies, VHF/UHF amplifiers, TNC’s, the AZ/EL rotator controller, etc. 

The VHF/UHF console had a lot of history associated with it. It was from this console that the first earth-space amateur radio contacts are made during SAREX-manifested Space Shuttle flights. Typically, one or two radio checks are made with the astronauts prior to their onboard amateur radio operations: contacts with the scheduled school groups and general DX-style contacts.
Since those early days of SAREX with Drs. Owen Garriott, W5LFL, Tony England, W0ORE, and Ron Parise, WA4SIR, many, many contacts were made with astronauts and cosmonauts from this console. During the times when U.S. astronauts were stationed aboard the Russian Space Station Mir, there were almost daily contacts with Mir from W5RRR. The astronaut got a chance to speak with family members, friends, and co-workers staying up with what was going on on the ground in their absence.

Future activities from this console, or whatever it may evolve to in the future, will certainly include communications with the International Space Station crewmembers. The equipment is assembled, the antennas have been designated, constructed and assigned their outside mounting locations, and the astronauts/cosmonauts have received or will receive their licenses.

Today’s Antennas/Towers

We have been blessed in the past with great antenna tower systems. The first, is our 80′ Rohn 45G tower. It’s been a rock. It’s been through hurricanes, thunderstorms, and, we believe, micro-bursts or mini-tornadoes (we had a 51′ crank up tower at one time which we lost in a sudden thunderstorm which reportedly contained microbursts and may well have caused the tower’s failure–but, the 80′ Rohn 45G tower suffered not a whit.).  It’s getting tired, however, and maintenance renovations are underway and expected to bring this workhorse back into good shape before November 2017.

The 80′ tower supports a Hy-Gain 204BA, 4-element, 20m beam at the base of the mast and a Cushcraft 1504, 4-element, 15m beam at the top of the mast, about 10′ above the 204BA. The tower also has a Radioworks Carolina Windom 80-10m wire antenna which runs approximately 130 feet from the near the top of the 80′ tower to a tied off spot 30′ up a tree due North West .  We recently discovered large amounts of water inside the current balun which likely affected its performance for many years!  It’s all fixed and radiating fine now.

The beams are turned by Ham-II rotator which just recently decided to stop telling us it’s direction.  We’re not blindly turning the antenna by opening the back door and observing it’s orientation.  This will be fixed by November 2017 as well.

Up until the fall of 1998, the 15m beam was fine; the look of the two 4-element beams was a truly a thing of beauty and a wonder to behold–classic antenna art. Then a small tropical storm came through and we lost half of one half of a director element and the rear third of the boom containing the reflector. The 15m beam had remained a 2.75 element beam for a few years, but the remaining piece fell off and today it’s been reduced to a 2 element beam… but it still works! SWR dips at 21.7MHz but there seems to be directivity and gain in the direction it’s pointing.  It’s still a killer during operations.  The 4-element 20 beam has also now suffered wear and tear.  It no longer resonates in the band and it exhibits an intermittent connection at the feed, so we’ve taken it off the air.

The second tower (temporarily down) used to hold our Cushcraft A3S, a 3-element triband beam for 10-15-20m, an A3S+30m , a 3-element duoband beam for 12-17m with optional 30m add-on 8′ above it, and a dual-band VHF/UHF vertical antenna.  It was a 50′ ex-military tower we received a number of years ago from the Ellington Field MARS (Military Amateur Radio Service) group. However, it suffered a fracture in one of the tower section legs. Because of the hazard and the potential for other fractures appearing, the tower was removed. A 60′ replacement tower has been acquired and is stored at the outside cage beside the shack, but is awaiting a new pad installation.  Stay tuned.

 In the meantime, we’ve temporarily installed a 50′ AB-1339A/G military crank-up tower at the former tower #2 pad site.  We have a KIO 5-band (6m-20m) Hexbeam mounted onto of it.  Because the Hexbeam is so light-weight,  it is easily be driven with a Radio Shack antenna rotator.

The third tower is one straight section and one pointy-top section of Rohn 45G. This is our satellite antenna tower. The rotator is a Kenpro. The 2m antenna is a 24-element, cross-polarized, beam antenna. The 70cm antenna is a 36-element, cross-polarized, beam antenna. Work is underway to build an interface from our newly acquired NUC computer with the existing Yaesu rotator antenna controller.  Tracking of the satellites and ISS should soon be a breeze.

A 6m Halo antenna is mounted part way below the 2m/70cm cross-polarized antennas.  The TS-2000x excites this halo antenna.  This is another antenna generously on loan from AB5SS.



** Tower/Antenna Update 07/04/17

Plans are underway to fix our tower and antennas before November 2017.  This is an aggressive plan, especially since treasury funds are limited.  All members are seeking online and swapfest opportunities as they might show.

Here’s the current plan

  • Repair Tower #1
    • Replace and refurbish 80′ tower sections as required
    • Replace Ham II rotor with refurbished unit
    • Replace 20m and 15m mono band antennas with KLM 7.2/10-30-7 Log Periodic Antenna (7.2Mhz+ 10-30Mhz) (a loan from K5KG)
  • Install Tower #2
    • Resurrect either on existing pad or pour new one.
    • Potential antenna candidates:
      • TH7DX (stored at W5RRR outside cage)
      • TBD VHF/UHF beams


Two-Meter Repeater

 The JSCARC supports an open 2m repeater (146.64r/.04t – no tone). The repeater is located in the rooftop penthouse (equipment room) of the 9-story JSC Project Management building, Building 1, at Johnson Space Center.
The Spectrum Communications SCR-500 repeater has a power output of 25 watts. The antenna, a Diamond G7-144, provides approximately 6db gain, giving an effective radiated power (ERP) of 100 watts and providing coverage to a radius of approximately 30 miles (downtown Houston-Downtown Galveston). The antenna is mounted atop the Building 1’s penthouse roof (effectively, the 11th floor).
The repeater has survived two hurricanes, tropical storms, and numerous Texas-sized thunderstorms. It has a back-up battery system designed to provide repeater operation for at least 36 hours. The repeater ID changes to “W5RRR BAT” when it is on battery power.
The JSCARC repeater carries the International Space Station (ISS) air-to-ground audio for local hams and non-hams. During shuttle flights, the mission audio is given over to the space shuttle mission audio. On landing, audio is switched back to ISS audio.
Because of the repeater’s wide-area coverage of the NASA-Clear Lake area and the JSCARC’s commitment to fulfill its public service obligation, the repeater is frequently used to provide communications for the many and varied public service events.

Station Pictures/Posters
Arrayed around the walls of the station were numerous pictures and posters. Most all of the pictures and posters have been stored away until we can start moving into the new shack. The space shuttle crew pictures were designed by the crews as mementos and tokens of thanks to those organizations and folks who supported them in their flights. Some of the posters are those which are used during public events such as space-related and ham-related conventions, in which SAREX (and now ARISS) project was presented.

Historical note from KG5U:

The 204BA, 20m, 4-element beam has an interesting history. Back in the early 70’s, I was working in the communications center at here at JSC (back then, it was called Manned Spacecraft Center–MSC). One of our tasks in the commcen (mostly teletype and facsimile) was to operate a couple of Collins-equipped HF stations on the NASA Emergency Radio Network and perform weekly radio checks with the other NASA Centers around the country.
A scientist working on a joint U.S. Dept of Agriculture-NASA-Mexican Dept. of Agriculture-Mexican Space Commission project in Mexico had been making daily telephone calls back to JSC to file his activity report. After a few monthly bills had been received in the Telephone Office for the long distance phone calls, someone suggested that the scientist should be provided a radio with which to files his reports.
It was decided that sending someone (me) down to his location and setting him up with some Collins radio equipment and antenna/tower hardware would be cheaper in the long run.
So, with a KWM-2A, Power Supply, a 30L1 amplifier, a 204BA antenna, fifty feet of Rohn 45G, guy wire, guy anchors, and other hardware, KG5U spent a total of four weeks (two two-week trips) working in and around the small town of Fortín de las Flores (Fountain of the Flowers). Fortín is an absolutely beautiful, ‘typical’ Mexican small-town, located halfway between Veracruz and Mexico City.
While there, I and some local hired helpers to help me, installed the tower and antenna (no rotator was needed), shopped for needed, additional hardware in the nearby cities of Orizaba and Cordoba. I quickly got accustomed to the Mexican afternoon siesta time, late dinners, wonderful people, great food, beautiful countryside, and the overall lifestyle. Once the station was all set up and ready to operatoe, it was a matter of waiting on the license to come through from the Mexican ‘FCC’.
Because it was going to take a while, I was recalled to Houston until the license arrived. Once it arrived, I flew down to Veracruz, drove out to Fortín and trained Dr. Broce on the operation of the radio equipment. After a week and a half there, making sure Dr. Broce was comfortable with the procedures and operation of the radio and amplifier, I returned to Houston.
Until the project was over a couple of years later, Dr. Broce filed his daily reports via the radio station and the HF station in our commcenter office where we phone-patched him through to his JSC secretary.
After the project was over, the antenna and other hardware returned to JSC and was given to the JSC Amateur Radio Club for it’s use.